My first time at Swe Bar (an upscale bar and lounge located in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria) was in 2008. I was a banker running a blog (WeRunThings) that was growing in demand. The Unrulies wanted to host a party for Bobby Taylor and they wanted WeRunThings.com to cover and also feature the event. That was also the first time I met Chris Ihidero, Lamide Akintobi, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, Buki De La Zaria, Bobby Taylor, Obi Asika, Ikechukwu, Naeto C, Steve Babaeko, Remi Fagbohun, Muiyiwa Osindero, Ayo Animashaun and Ajibola Ayana.
It was a beautiful place and you wished you could bag the ambience, to be enjoyed with a bottle of Hennessy later at your own convenience. It was easy to notice ‘Jibola was the mother of the house, the queen of the palace from the way she carried herself and the confident, but self assured way she barked orders for perfection. Yet, she was warm, a bit shy and welcoming. I had not experienced anything like the service Swe offered and I had my doubts about future sustenance. Subsequent meetings and events changed my perception and I began to respect the perfectionist captain of the Swe ship.
6 years down the line, Ajibola Ayana is bolder and has grown a new found confidence; with a resolved, focused entrepreneurial confidence, she is leaving Swe Bar to start/run her own consultancy services firm. She is taking, not just her experience as the stewardess, but also her relationships with/in the music/entertainment industry which she gave a laudable platform during her time at Swe. We had a quick chat with her on her last day at work, right before she walked out of the door – to possibilities.
Like we suspected, she schooled in and outside Nigeria, first studying business administration at the University of Lagos, then going abroad for further studies. On work experience, she says:
“I worked in a bank and an investment company in Nigeria, before I started working for Swe bar . Swe came as a test case, so to speak. I didn’t take it seriously when I was first asked to come run the place” she adds “First time it was ever mentioned to me…I was like me? Run a bar? Not possible! But persistence by one of my bosses who believed in my abilities, who believed in what I could do cos he had seen what I did in banking”
“He had that faith, that ultimate belief in me from the get go. I have a lot to be grateful to him for. He more or less gave me this platform to develop myself. Cos you know sometimes we…in Nigeria, unfortunately, we go to school…guidance couselling in Nigeria is really not what it should be. They steer you along the path of “just do the respectable professional jobs” I have always had a flair for music, fashion, putting things together. I guess it wasn’t working well for me in banking, I left and six years down the line this is what I still wanna see my future in. Its been a fantastic run. A wonderful experience that I would not trade for anything in the world”
Ayana (her new business name) is into consultancy, setting bars up, bar training, recruitment; they also create bespoke events. They are not your average event, party, wedding planners, she says, and quickly goes into business mode adding
“We create experiences, themes that will suit the clientele’s taste. We do events for bars, clubs as well. Totally strategic to the client. We are working with companies like Purple Props. There’s a lot to be done in this industry, processes are important and need to be put in place. That’s what sustained Swe for the last 6 years and that’s what will keep sustaining swe. Things being done properly, its an organization, a business and should be run as such. That’s what we have done at swe and what I intend to do with every client that I consult for”
In 2008, Swe Bar hosted the listening party of (then) fast rising hiphop star MI (Jude Abaga); it seemed like a big gamble that totally paid off, when we gave Jibola props on the achievement, she quickly corrected us…
I cannot take all the props for the MI listening party. I have Tosyn Bucknor to thank for that. Audu Makori was looking for an outlet in Nig…Lagos that would be willing to help promote MI. I had listened to the music and loved what I heard. Tosyn just thought “you know what, Jibs…with what you do and this new artiste, I think you guys can marry things together and we can come up with something fantastic, something totally different” That’s why I said I cannot take all the props’ for myself .
Audu Makori walking up to us wasn’t like we spoke today and had the party the next week. This was like a 2 months process. We got them to give us CDs of singles that we gave out to people for free. We gave those out to create awareness for like 2 months before the listening party. The feedback was fantastic, so it was so easy to get people to show up for the listening party. People wanted to hear more.
MI is an immensely talented person, and the whole Choc’ City organizational power helped the success of the event as well. So many people were involved. MI sold himself more or less. People wanted more. Anoti and Blaze were the only two singles. People went crazy when they heard those songs…
Between the party for Bobby Taylor by the UnRulies in 2008 and the Red Reception for Tolu Ogunlesi, the bar/lounge has grown, while other entertainment bars and clubs have sprung up. Its a big wonder how they have been both able to sustain the growth and remain innovative. At the mention of sustainability, she smiled and offers:
…originality, creativity, and like I said processes are very key. Customer service is also very key. Someone can come here and be served by a really nasty staff, we don’t want that. We lay a lotta emphasis on that. The ambience here…we make sure the ambience is near perfect in terms of maintenance and so many things. Originality and creativity…we started a lot of events that are being done by so many clubs now. And when we started, they were like “they cant be serious, they cant sustain that, that’s not gonna work” 6 years down the line it still working for us, we have done over 80 events in Swe Bar…every event is different. Every single one.
I challenged her still, this is lagos, there’s always a new thing coming up, new fad, new channels, new avenues, how have you coped with the lows that usually accompany the highs? She acquiesced…
For every business you’ve got the highs and the lows and in Nigeria, because of the economic situation, there’ll always be the lows. Even when it was at a low, we always maintained the consistency,; we’ve got wonderful clientele too. The bulk of our clients have been here with us for the last 6 years.
Also we try to give value/service for money. Even if it is a bottle of Coke that you are buying here, you are treated like a king or queen. Its money you are spending here. You should be able to have a good time and enjoy yourself.
Ajibola Ayana was doing a man’s job for six years, a very demanding job that has wrecked homes and left some as incurable insomniacs; yet she seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. How did she manage it? Here’s what she said…
I’m very strong willed by nature. I grew up with men, I have only brothers. I think I have a man’s perspective on most things…laughs* and I guess the most important thing is the grace of God really. The grace of God….
Of course there must have been one or two casualties. What suffered for her to succeed in this business…?
Ha! (laughs*) My personal life suffered oh…and relationships suffered. There’s so much you can ask from 1 person, when it comes to this job. Understanding and things…it takes a very strong man to be able to go through those motions with you. A couple of other things suffered. I don’t have a personal life.
Whats next for this unrelenting amazon? After running a successful venture like Swe for 6 years? Hersleep pattern has changed, work ethics engraved on her genes by…what’s next? I’ve seen her throw tantrums when things seemed imperfect…is she scared?
(Laughs*) …truth be told…like I have said I am truly grateful for Swe being a platform; a couple of clients that I have now, but cannot mention now for obvious reasons came through working at Swe. My work here sold me to them, in terms of things I can deliver to them. Recently we had a meeting with our clients, who you are going to hear about very soon…it’s a club; a nightclub. Something totally different from what is regularly obtainable in Lagos, in Nigeria even. Apparently the guy (client) has been on my Facebook page for the last six years and when he came into Nigeria he asked to see me, its amazing…that’s how I got the job!
Oh wow! We totally wish this hardworking and inspiring woman the very best as she steps out to success after success.
Photography by Olushola A. Aromokun
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